“You think knowing will make it easier, Blood Shrike,” he says. “But knowing makes it worse.” A millennia-old sadness weighs upon him, so consuming that I have to look away. His whisper is faint, and his body fades. “Knowing is a curse.”

I watch him until he’s gone. My heart is a vast chasm, empty of everything but Cain’s warning and a staggering fear.

But first you will be unmade.

Killing Elias will destroy me. I sense that truth in my bones. Killing Elias is my unmaking.



Afya gave me no time to say goodbye, to mourn. I slipped Izzi’s eye patch off, threw a cloak over her face, and fled. At least I escaped with my pack and Darin’s scim. Everyone else has only their clothes and the goods stowed in the horses’ saddlebags.

The horses themselves are long gone, stripped of any sigils and sent galloping west the moment we reached the River Taius. Afya’s only words of farewell to the beasts were wrathful mutters about their expense.

The boat she stole off a fisherman’s pier will soon be gone too. Through the sagging door of a mold-fuzzed barn in which we have taken refuge, I can see Keenan standing at the riverside, sinking the boat.

Thunder rumbles. A drop of sleet shoots through the hole in the barn’s roof and lands on my nose. Hours remain until dawn.

I look to Afya, who holds a dim lamp to the ground as she draws a map in the dirt while speaking to Vana in a low voice.

“—and tell him I’m calling in this favor.” The Zaldara hands Vana a favor coin. “He’s to get you to Aish and get these Scholars to the Free Lands.”

One of the Scholars—Miladh—approaches Afya, standing firm against her blazing anger.

“I am sorry,” he says. “If one day I can repay you for what you’ve done, I will, a hundredfold.”

“Stay alive.” Afya’s eyes soften—just a touch—and she nods to the children. “Protect them. Help any others you can. That’s the only payment I expect I’ll get.”

When she’s out of earshot, I approach Miladh, who is now attempting to fashion a sling from a length of cloth. As I show him how to drape the cloth, he eyes me with nervous curiosity. He must be wondering about what he saw in Afya’s wagon.

“I don’t know how I disappeared,” I finally say. “That was the first time I even realized I had done it.”

“A good trick for a Scholar girl to have,” Miladh says. He looks at Afya and Gibran, speaking quietly on the other side of the barn. “In the boat, the boy said something about saving a Scholar who knows the secrets of Serric steel.”

I scuff my foot against the ground. “My brother,” I say.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about him.” Miladh tucks his son into the sling. “But it is the first time I’ve had cause to hope. Save him, Laia of Serra. Our people need him. And you.”

I look to the little boy in his arms. Ayan. Tiny dark crescents curve beneath his lower lashes. His eyes meet mine, and I touch his cheek, soft and round. He should be innocent. But he’s seen things no child should. Who will he be when he grows up? What will all this violence make him? Will he survive? Not another forgotten child with a forgotten name, I plead. Not another lost Scholar.

Vana calls out and, with Zehr, leads Miladh, his sister, and the children into the night. Ayan twists about to look at me. I make myself smile at him—Pop always said you could never smile too much at a baby. The last thing I see before they are lost in darkness is his eyes, so dark, watching me still.

I turn to Afya, locked in conversation with her brother. From the look on her face, interrupting them would result in a fist to the jaw.

Before I decide what to do, Keenan ducks into the barn. The sleet falls steady now, and his red hair is plastered to his head, almost black in the darkness.

He halts when he sees the eyepatch in my hand. Then he takes two steps and pulls me to his chest without hesitation, wrapping his arms around me. This is the first time we’ve had a moment to even look at each other since we escaped the Martials. But I am numb as he holds me close, unable to relax into him or to allow his warmth to drive away a chill that set into my bones the moment I saw Izzi’s chest torn open.

“We just left her there,” I say into his shoulder. “Left her to—” To rot. To have her bones picked clean by scavengers or tossed into some unmarked grave. The words are too horrible to speak.

“I know.” Keenan’s voice cracks, and his face is chalk-white. “Skies, I know—”

“—can’t bleeding make me!”

I jerk my head around to the other end of the barn, where Afya looks as if she’s about to crush the lamp in her hand. Gibran, meanwhile, seems as if he’s more like his sister than is currently convenient for her.

“It’s your duty, you fool. Someone must take control of the Tribe if I don’t come back, and I won’t have it be one of our idiot cousins.”

“You should have thought of that before you brought me along.” Gibran stands nose to nose with Afya. “If Laia’s brother can make the steel that brings the Martials down, then we owe it to Riz—and Izzi—to save him.”

“We’ve dealt with the Martials’ cruelty before—”

“Not like this,” he says. “They’ve disrespected us, robbed us, yes. But they’ve never butchered us. They’ve been killing Scholars, and it’s making them bold. We’re next. For where will they find slaves if they’ve killed all the Scholars off?”